Danesh Abeyrathne began his career as a financial analyst at LOLC before moving to operations and engineering at British American Tobacco. In 2014 he joined Gal Oya Plantation where he became chief operating officer, and in March 2018, at the age of 35, he became chief operating officer at Browns Group of Companies.
Browns is a 145-year old company with Rs18 billion revenue and 1,000 employees. Abeyrathne is responsible for eight divisions and five subsidiaries across diverse industries including automotive, power generation and plantations.
“You see where the money is. We want to bring some of that back into the country.”
As an engineering graduate and a chartered management accountant, Abeyrathne feels his background has enabled him to see things from a different perspective. In his first year as chief operating officer of Browns, he has implemented tactical decisions to exit several businesses and turned around three loss-making divisions. He is transforming the business to be lean and decentralised with subsidiaries and divisions granted flexibility and autonomy.
The strategy aims to help Browns weather the current economic instability; by being lean. In the long term, Abeyrathne plans to expand the brand portfolio as Sri Lanka’s economy picks up. Growth may also come from export to South Asian countries. Over the past two years, 75% of Browns’ new investments have been outside Sri Lanka. Browns is building three resorts and one apartment complex in the Maldives. They have also recently invested in a plantation in Sierra Leone.
Abeyrathne sits on the board of LOLC Technologies, among others, which is developing capability in products such as fortified rice and charcoal waste. Along with tourism, Abeyrathne feels the most significant opportunity for the business in Sri Lanka is in value addition to raw materials. Take, for example, cinnamon, which Browns owns a large plantation of.
At present, cinnamon processing in Sri Lanka adds around 20% to the value. The real value addition takes place after cinnamon is turned into a product, like an essence, elsewhere. “You see where the money is,” says Abeyrathne, “We want to bring some of that back into the country.”